The Associated Press
Amid continued fretting about a Pennsylvania law that allows New Jersey residents to buy fireworks that are illegal in the Garden State, New Jersey state police have confiscated nearly 8,000 pounds of fireworks ahead of Independence Day.
State Police Sgt. Jeanne Hengemuhl said a state police crackdown at the Delaware River crossings with Pennsylvania led to 50 arrests and 7,800 pounds - nearly four tons - of confiscated fireworks valued at $21,000.
Pennsylvania law bans fireworks sales to Pennsylvania residents who lack special permits, but allows sales to out-of-state residents.
Yet it's illegal in New Jersey to use, possess or transport fireworks, including firecrackers, Roman candles, M80s, cherry bombs and even sparklers. New Jersey is among nine states that bans all consumer fireworks.
"It was a lot about enforcement, but it really was mostly about educating the people," Hengemuhl said of the state police effort. "We wanted New Jerseyans to know it's illegal and it's dangerous."
She said the arrests involved not just New Jerseyans, but people from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, with the largest seizure being 600 pounds.
"We were shocked at some of the things we saw," Hengemuhl said.
The campaign started June 18 when signs were posted along roads describing New Jersey's fireworks ban. Hengemuhl wouldn't say when the targeted enforcement effort would end, describing it as "ongoing."
Buyers have been warned. Under an agreement reached earlier this year between the New Jersey Attorney General's Office and Pennsylvania fireworks retailers, signs were posted at retail outlets stating that New Jersey law prohibits the transportation, sale, possession or use of fireworks.
In New Jersey, fireworks possession is a disorderly persons offense, but possession with intent to sell can bring up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
The New Jersey Senate recently approved a measure asking Pennsylvania to revise its 2004 law to make it illegal to sell consumer fireworks to out-of-state residents.
Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, the bill sponsor, said the measure sends this message to Pennsylvania retailers: "We care about the safety of our all of our residents, the children you are targeting for the sale of fireworks, and you should not take advantage of them."
Pennsylvania Rep. John Galloway, D-Bucks, recently introduced legislation to ban selling fireworks to anyone, regardless of where they live, unless they have proper permits.
"If its dangerous for a Pennsylvanian to have fireworks such as Roman candles and bottle rockets, then it stands to reason its dangerous for anyone to have those types of fireworks and we should not sell them here," he said.
But no hearings have been slated on Galloway's bill and other legislators have said they foresaw no immediate plans to change the law, which they said helped protect long-established Pennsylvania fireworks companies.
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According to the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, there were 9,600 emergency room visits around the country in 2004 for fireworks-related injuries, two-thirds between June 19 and July 19. It found that half of fireworks injuries are suffered by children and teenagers.